Pathways exist for women considering a new career in construction
Thinking about exploring a construction-related career, but not sure where to start? Considering making a switch into construction from another industry?
If the answer is yes to either question, then the time is now to take the leap. And that’s not just a response to the astounding talent shortage in construction right now.
Citing the vast opportunities for personal and professional growth associated with construction careers, this charge was the resounding agreement from female leaders across Virginia Tech’s Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities during discussions for Women in Construction Week, which runs March 6-12.
Hosted by the National Association of Women in Construction, the week aims to celebrate women in construction, amplify the voices of women across the industry, and shine a light on career possibilities in the field for everyone.
At Virginia Tech, the women in the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities talked about their professional journeys in the male-dominated field and offered insights for those considering jumping into jobs in construction and facilities for the first time. Their pearls of wisdom follow below.
Entry points into construction careers are limitless
From interns and apprentices, to recent graduates, to mid-career professionals seeking a career change, to those with a proclivity for home repairs, and everyone in between, there are interminable pathways and motivations that can serve as a jumping-off point for a new career in construction.
And no one pathway into the field is the “correct” one.
Growing up in a family with deep construction ties sparked Cyndi Stewart’s initial entry into the field.
“At the end of the day, I knew whatever I did I wanted to play in the dirt," said Stewart, assistant project manager for renovations. "I enjoy every aspect of construction from start to finish. Being able to have a hand in building something that will be here for generations is incredibly validating.”
Capital Project Manager Cassidy Blackmore fostered a passion for construction in her undergraduate coursework in the Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. An internship with a general contractor would further ratify her choice to pursue a career in construction management.
Fueled by a desire to gain new skills and an affinity for fixing things, Pam Tickle, trades mechanic, decided to go out on a limb and apply to the division’s in-house apprenticeship program after 12 years in university housekeeping. She graduated from the program in 2019.
Open to current Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities employees in pay bands 1 and 2, the four-year apprenticeship incorporates coursework, licensure, and extensive hands-on rotations on the Blacksburg campus in carpentry, masonry, painting, glasswork, electrical systems, and roofing.
“Through the apprenticeship program and in my current role in Facilities Operations, I’ve not only gained technical capabilities and credentials to support a long-term facilities career, I’ve also got skills that will serve me for life, both at home and at work,” Tickle said.
It’s never too late – or early – to explore a new career
Similar to Tickle, a mid-career transition into construction wasn’t originally on Capital Project Manager Katrina Estep’s mind — especially as she navigated a series of jobs in retail and other industries.
Facing the impending closure of the department store where she worked, she discovered career possibilities in civil engineering — an entirely new field for Estep — through an employment agency’s educational materials.
Estep went on to pursue a four-year degree in civil engineering, flourishing in her science and math courses and construction labwork. After a stint in mining, she relocated to Blacksburg and joined the Virginia Tech renovations team and then capital construction.
Engaging students at an early age in the environmental side of facilities is top of mind for Katelyn Muldoon, water resources specialist. Prior to the pandemic, Muldoon and her team often visited local elementary and middle schools, teaching students about the importance of stormwater management and water quality.
“I really enjoy meeting with students of all ages and highlighting the importance of natural resources stewardship. It is my hope these sessions will remain in their minds as they think about all of the potential career opportunities out there — even if they may be many years off,” said Muldoon.
For those not sure where to start in exploring a potential construction or facilities career, there is a cadre of advocates ready to help.
“Whether you are just getting started in the field or are pondering a new job trajectory, take advantage of mentors across the field. So many people, women and men, would be glad to help. A fantastic place to start is connecting over coffee or participating in job shadowing,” affirmed Heidi Myers, executive director of real estate.
Tap into the skills you already possess, especially soft skills
While educational experiences and technical skills are very beneficial assets to launching a construction career, soft skills also come highly valued.
According to Director of Renovations Joy Manning, a penchant for problem-solving is key for all construction professionals. In an industry that is constantly evolving, an excitement for continuous learning and top-notch interpersonal skills are also critical.
“There are a lot of resources and support available in construction to upskill employees just starting out. Don’t be afraid to cast a wide net when it comes to pursuing new courses, internships, or jobs. You never know when you’ll be able to realize a new skill set. All it takes is one opportunity or mentor,” said Marianne Ouren, assistant project manager, renovations.
For Ouren, who originally earned a liberal arts degree, it was getting involved in a friend’s home repair business that stimulated a lifelong passion for construction and a deep set of skills that would eventually lead to future renovation roles in city government and at Virginia Tech.
“The connections you can make with people across the variety of fields within construction and facilities can be really informative. You may be exposed to something that you really excel at that you may never have dreamed was a possibility. There are also emerging fields that you can step into like green infrastructure and sustainability where you can help forge a path ahead,” said Sarah Myers, visual content specialist.
Sandra Graham, director of campus design, shares this sentiment.
“Think about what really interests you, and don’t be afraid to seize opportunities, even if they are outside your chosen track of work or study. Go for it. After all, there is plenty of room for everyone — especially women — in construction, facilities, design, and countless other related fields.”
100 Years of Women at Virginia Tech
Along with the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction recognition of Women in Construction Week, Virginia Tech is currently celebrating the anniversary of 100 years of women at Virginia Tech. For the complete schedule of events, visit the Women’s Center website.